How Stress Wreak Havoc in Your Mouth.

Stress is a physical, mental, or emotional reaction to pressure from a certain situation or event.  With the current environment of the world, many are experiencing some form of stress.  Stress is commonly triggered by work, family issues or financial troubles.  Hey, this year of 2020, the year of perfect vision, has thrown all types of stressors in the pot.  At this point, I am just at the table willing to accept whatever is thrown at me. I should come out as the clearest most sparkling diamond in the ruff!

Let me be clear not all stress is bad.  There are times when the flight or fight response kicks in and it is needed to get ish done. We need that every so often to push through our fears and hesitations when doing new things.  The butterfly flutters in your stomach or the sweaty palms you experience prior to speaking publicly are a result of acute stress.  Feeling short spurts of stress is usually nothing to be alarmed by. 

However, if it is not properly managed and allowed to spiral out of control, stress can be detrimental to your health. Chronic stress is a response to prolonged periods of pressure.  Most likely an individual who is chronically stressed feel like they have little or no control.  Chronic stress effects your mental, physical, and emotional health.

Physical Effects:

  • Headache
  • Issues with sleep (little, too much, or none)
  • Pain or tension in your muscles
  • Digestive issues
  • Sex drive changes
  • High blood pressure

Emotional Effects:

  • Feeling like you cannot get things done
  • Moodiness
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Lack of motivation
  • Irritability
  • Sadness or Depression

There may be times where you may experience too much stress and cannot get it under control.  I would suggest seeking professional help if you feel you are experiencing stress overload. Start with your primary care physician; they can help determine if you are experiencing more than stress.  They may then refer you to mental health professionals who can provide you with additional resources.

Signs of Stress Overload:

  • Panic attacks
  • Worry excessively
  • Feelings of being under constant pressure
  • Drinking or doing drugs to deal with stress
  • Gluttonous behavior
  • Smoking
  • Depression
  • Withdrawal from family and friends

Everyone reacts to stress differently. However, our body’s response to stress is the same. Stress creates hormonal, respiratory, cardiovascular, and nervous system changes in our body.  Along with these systemic changes, there are oral manifestations that are the result of stress.  Yes, stress can wreak havoc in your mouth.  Is the mouth not part of your body? There are many oral symptoms of stress, but I will not bog you down with a complete lecture. Today we will discuss a few that are commonly noticed by everyone because the September 2020 report by the ADA health Policy Institute stated that more than 50% of the dentists surveyed reported seeing an increase of patients with oral symptoms associated with stress.

Oral Symptoms of Stress:

  • Orofacial pain
  • Bruxism
  • Temporomandibular disorders (TMD)
  • Mouth sores
  • Gum disease


It is the snooty dental term for grinding teeth and clenching jaws.  Bruxism is most often associated with sleep disorder, the way you bite, or missing or crooked teeth.  Grinding can also be the result of stress. 

Symptoms of Bruxism:

  • Dull headaches
  • Jaw soreness
  • Teeth that are painful or loose
  • Fractured teeth
  • Tips of teeth appear flat
  • Tooth enamel is rubbed off causing sensitivity
  • Tongue indentations

Your dentist can examine your teeth to confirm if you have bruxism.  They’ll recommend the best method of treatment.  Recommendations may include being fitted for a mouthguard to protect your teeth, relaxation techniques, meditation, counseling or exercise.

Temporomandibular Disorders (TMD)

TMD are conditions that affect the joint of the jaw (temporomandibular joints or TMJ), the muscles used to move your jaw and neck, and the nerves linked to chronic facial pain. Stress aggravate TMD by causing overuse of the jaw muscles and joints. 

Symptoms of TMD:

  • Jaw joint pain (most common in the morning or late afternoon)
  • Masticatory muscle pain (Pain spreading behind eyes, in the face, shoulder, neck, or back)
  • Earaches or ringing in the ears (not caused by an ear infection)
  • Clicking or popping of the jaw
  • Catching or Locking of the jaw
  • Limitation in mouth motions
  • Clenching or grinding of the teeth
  • Dizziness
  • Teeth sensitivity
  • Numbness or tingling feeling in the fingers
  • A change in the way teeth fit together

TMD symptoms mimic those of other health conditions so seek professional help from your dentist because diagnosis is an important step before treatment of TMD. Treatment will depend on your age, symptoms, and general health.  Treatment is also determined by the severity of your symptoms.  Treatment may include a mouthguard, medicine or pain relievers, orthodontic treatment, behavior changes to stop clenching and grinding, physical therapy, posture training, dietary changes that rest the jaw muscles, or surgery.

Mouth Sores

Canker Sores

First off, aphthous ulcers or canker sores, should NOT be confused with cold sores.  Canker sores appear on their own and are not contagious.  They are small sores that occur inside your mouth usually inside the cheeks, lips, on or under the tongue, the roof of the mouth and on the gums. They are small round spots that can be white, grayish, or yellowish in color with a red border. The are triggered by stress.

Other Cause of Canker Sores:

  • Trauma (cheek biting, poking gums with toothbrush, or overzealous tooth cleaning)
  • Braces, retainers, or dentures rubbing against your cheek
  • Genetics
  • Fatigue
  • Weakened immune system
  • Chemotherapy
  • Nutritional problems or deficiencies
  • Menstruation
  • Spicy foods
  • Irritants in toothpaste

Of course, seeing your dentist for proper diagnosis is the first step you should take. To stop the pain and irritation, suggestions may include stop the consumption of spicy, hot foods or acidic foods, such as tomatoes or citrus fruits. A recommendation could also be OTC pain medication for general pain relief, OTC topical anesthetic that form a protective covering for the sore, or aloe vera juice. Canker sores usually disappear within 10 days. If these sores are present for more than two weeks seek a reevaluation from you dentist.

Cold Sores

Cold sores or fever blisters are caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 and are extremely contagious. Because they are highly contagious you may be asked to reschedule any dental appointment until the blisters have cleared. Cold sores are fluid filled sores that usually form on or around your lips.  They can also show under your nose or around your chin.  An outbreak is triggered by stress and lack of sleep. The blisters usually heal in a week by themselves, but OTC topical anesthetics can provide some relief. Your dentist may prescribe antiviral drugs.

Gum Disease

Studies have shown that emotional factors played a key role in the development of periodontal (gum) disease in adults. They have also discovered that the amount of stress a person experienced increased the severity of gum disease.

Being under stress results in mood and behavioral changes. These changes can cause one to not complete their regular oral hygiene practices, such as brushing, flossing, and rinsing. Not completing daily oral hygiene tasks can increase your chances of getting cavities and gum disease.

Symptoms of Gum Diease:

  • Gums that bleed easily
  • Red, swollen, tender gums
  • Gums that have pulled away from the teeth
  • Persistent bad breath or bad taste
  • Permanent teeth that are loose or separating
  • Changes in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
  • Change in the fit of partial dentures

See your dentist or dental hygienist if you think you make have gum disease. If detected and treated early, you increase you chances of controlling the disease and preventing severe oral conditions. 

For most people, it is difficult to determine how stressed they are.  The severity of the stress and how is affecting the body usually is not determined until someone gets sick.  Regular visits to your health care and dental care professionals will help detect stress related disorders and defects. 

Of course, the best way to prevent the side effects of stress is to eliminate the stressors. However, the world is a stressful place, and I know it is hard to completely get rid of the things that may cause us stress.  I urge you to adapt some or all the following practices:

  • Seek counseling
  • Complete exercises such as yoga and jogging,
  • Learn relaxation and meditation techniques,
  • Get a massage
  • Try physical therapy it has been shown to help reduce tension

So, yes, stress can cause oral conditions that you should keep an eye out for.  Honestly, oral care is most likely compromised when people are going through stressful events in their lives.  I urge you to continue practicing good oral hygiene when experiencing these events. It is an important step in preventing stress from affecting your oral health.

Leave a comment letting me know how you plan to stop stress from wreaking havoc in your mouth!


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